“A spectacle …to Angels and… Men”
Writing about A. D. 54 to the self-satisfied Corinthians, Paul in his first epistle (4:9) is led to describe the lot of apostles in those darkening days. He says, “we are made a spectacle unto … angels and … men.” Thus in their fight against sin and darkness he emphasizes that they were seen and watched by celestial beings as well as by men. They were indeed being made a “theatron” lit., a theatrical spectacle, and that to all created intelligences. This is a most remarkable commentary on the “good fight of faith” all believers are called to engage in, for it is still in some sense true of us.
Yet that spectacle was but a faint shadow of a far mightier battle, and a still more remarkable “spectacle” which took place some twenty-one years before on the “green hill” of Golgotha, when God’s Son joined battle with the powers of darkness, and won a notable victory on the cross.
Now it is never possible to over-emphasize the cost of that cross to Christ, nor the need and result of that cross to man in salvation. But it is certainly possible to over-emphasize the term, “the cross,” when, as sometimes, it results in the practical omission of the Christ who died on the cross. Actually the cross is mentioned as a doctrinal position only eleven times; the death of Christ, which is really the central fact of redemption, is mentioned doctrinally ten times, while the Christ who died on the cross is mentioned in the doctrinal part of the New Testament some three hundred times. Let us be careful not to abandon the balance of Scripture in our setting forth of the truth. Yet with this preliminary warning let us consider the far-reaching effect of the cross. For it has ever been found:
“Sweet the moments rich in blessing,
Which before Thy cross we spend,
Life and health and peace possessing,
From the sinner’s dying Friend.”
(1) God the Father is immediately concerned. For the Father who had planned this exhibition of His love and grace “before the foundation of the world” did now at length “make peace through the blood of His (Christ’s) cross” (Col. 1:20). Here the One making peace is not the Son who died, but the Father who willed that atoning death. For it was indeed in direct response to His desire, that the Saviour who cried, “I delight to do Thy will, O My God,” became incarnate, that He might die that death of shame. So He, “bearing His cross, went forth into a place called…Golgotha, where they crucified Him.”
God’s supreme purpose was by Christ to “reconcile all things unto Himself in earth.” But the problem of sin was not confined to this world, so the reconciling also included, in some un-revealed way, “things in Heaven” where rebellion had begun. It is noticeable there is no mention of the third sphere of Phil. 2:10, “Things under the earth” That underworld is some day to “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,” while having no share in the reconciliation of Col. 1:20. Thus two stars of wondrous magnitude shine out of the dark night of the cross—the holiness and justice of God’s throne, and the love and grace of God’s heart.
(2) Christ … became obedient … even unto the death of the cross.” This is the special aspect of the cross in regard to the Saviour in Phil. 2:8. For Christ came, not so much to preach the gospel, though He did herald deliverance to the prisoner, He came rather that there might be a gospel to preach. He came to earth with a strange purpose, so different from that of human beings who cling to life, and who go through life, bent on living. Christ came to earth bent on dying, because He was bent on delivering men from sin, which could only be through His death, a death that will be eternally remembered.
Statesmen today, frightened by the drift to barbarism and chaos, are seeking a remedy. One such ended his appeal: “Wanted, a Man!”— someone able to lead the nations out of their calamity. Someday, soon, a man will be revealed to the worldling as leader, but he will be the Man of Sin. But long before God had sought a Man. When that One came all was indeed hopeless for the human race, for “there was no man, there was none to answer.” Then Christ offered Himself, the Just for the unjust. He was officially presented to the nation by the Roman Governor: “Behold the Man!”—God’s Man. God could cry: “I have found a ransom!” So He hung upon the cross in darkness, physical and spiritual, and in apparent weakness and defeat. For there were no mighty works that day such as He had often wrought in Galilee. There was no evident display of power by the helpless Victim, though the rocks rent and the sun was darkened. And yet a mightier work than ever before was being accomplished in the unseen spiritual realm, for there, enduring “even the death of the cross,” He became “a Prince and a Saviour.” “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable Gift!”
(3) Satan’s connection with the cross is graphically described in Colossians 2:14 where we are told Christ blotted out “the handwriting that was against us, nailing it to His cross … having spoiled principalities and powers.” For Christ was “manifested that He might destroy the works of the Devil,” and that destruction was accomplished by the victory won on the cross. The battle was for the possession of the human heart. The conflict raged around the human race. Yet far greater issues than the forgiveness of our sins were at stake. We have only glimpses of how the supremacy of God in Heaven had been challenged. We read significantly in Rev. 12:3 that “there appeared a great red dragon (Satan), and his tail drew the third part of the stars of Heaven;” whatever else that implies it surely pictures a tremendous following in rebellion. “And there was war in Heaven, Michael and his angels fought against the dragon … and his angels.”
Yes; thank God, “that old serpent called the Devil” was overcome once and for all, was “spoiled” on the cross, and “the prey of the terrible” was delivered. Some day the oppressor will be “cast out of Heaven” and later on “cast into the lake of fire,” in God’s appointed time. It was on the cross however the victory was won.
(4) The sinner’s relation to the cross is stated in 1 Cor. 1:18. “The preaching of the cross is unto them that perish, foolishness.” For the natural man is color-blind to the things of God, and only the second sight of faith will reveal to him its power. Till then, the “preaching of the cross” will seem “foolishness,” and this, because the heart of man is so deceitful that he feels he ought, and is convinced that he is able, to do something towards saving himself. It seems “foolish” that he should be asked to receive as a gift what he is convinced he can earn and deserve by his own efforts. This is evidenced by the fact that all men’s religions are religions of demand, man must improve himself, and acquire merit, and do something. “What must I do to be saved?” asked the jailer instinctively.
Christianity is unique in that it alone is essentially a religion of gift, God giving what man can never earn or deserve, but what he may freely receive. Is not this an evidence of the Divine origin of salvation? What human mind could ever have conceived that God’s Son should come and die for His creature man, that He might give the eternal life man could never acquire otherwise? Yet how can the acceptance by faith of the sacrifice of Another, bring to my guilty heart peace? Only and just because God has promised it, and ever keeps His promises, that “the preaching of the cross…unto us which are saved…is the power of God,” for deliverance from fear and sin.
(5) “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14). Having then been made free from the penalty of sin “through the blood of His cross,” having once for all passed from death to life in Christ, have I any further relation to the cross? Most assuredly. Paul still found nothing to glory in save the cross. For the cross and what was effected on it is still to be the motive power and secret of liberty from the dominion of sin.
This liberty depends on the fact that in the reckoning of God we and all other members of the Body of Christ died on the cross, actually when Christ the Head died. We are now invited to live on the heavenward side of our execution! Judicially, in the reckoning of God we did die, and therefore are free. Experimentally we are invited by God to appropriate this position by faith, and enjoy the resulting freedom by a daily “reckoning” (“Reckon yourselves to be dead”!). We have to face the fact that the perpetual hindrance to all growth in grace and work for God still remains the first personal pronoun! The “I” in us, the flesh which transliterated spells self, must be kept out of action, and from controlling our lives, by this moment-by-moment “reckoning.”
Now “a Christian is one who is rightly related to Christ as Saviour in regard to the pardon of sins, but a spiritual Christian is one only who is rightly related to the Holy Spirit as regards power over sin.”2 That right relation means that He must be installed in our hearts not merely as Guest but as Guide, not only as the Comforter, but as the Controller. It is true that all flows from Christ; He dealt with the sins of the unsaved by His work on the cross on earth. He now deals with the sins of the saints, restoring them when needful, and keeping them from sinning by His priestly work in Heaven. He now operates, however, through the Holy Ghost in our hearts.
We need ever to remember that though the link of union with Christ forged on the cross, for the believer is unbreakable, yet the link of communion with the Father is a delicate strand easily injured. God is always graciously seeking to strengthen that strand, that we may remain in unbroken communion. He does this largely by carefully graduated exercises of faith, the “dumbbells of the soul/’ Many of these come to us in our circumstances, whether of people or of things. It is said that an oak-tree grows through the power of the sun, but roots itself through the fury of the storm. The Christian grows through the Sun of Righteousness, but is rooted through “trials and afflictions.” Savonarola once said, “A Christian’s life often seems to consist in doing good, and suffering evil”! “Rejoicing in tribulation” was the Apostle’s triumphant claim, even while the “peace of God” was “keeping” his heart and mind.
So by the terms of Gal. 6:14 the world is crucified to us by the obedience of, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate.” The further and equally needful stage is when we can truly say, “We are crucified to the world,” and have no desire for its prizes, because the old nature which lusts after the world is being “reckoned dead” continually. God is prepared to enable us to maintain this attitude of reckoning and abiding, unbroken.
(6) Finally, in Galatians 5:11, “the offence of the cross,” describes the preacher’s relation to it, for it is not only “foolishness” to the worldling in theory, it is an “offence” to him in preaching and in practice. We shall never get beyond that “offence.” Men are prepared to admire our Saviour, and some honestly seek to “follow His steps.” Such an one came to the preacher after the service, objecting to the need of Christ as Saviour. “Why cannot I follow Him as example, He said men were to do so.” Turning to the passage in 1 Peter 2:21 the preacher said: “Very well, let us try to take the first step together. Verse 22 says, ‘Who did no sin/ can you take that step? Can you follow Him there?” Sorrowfully the objector said, “No; I can’t make that claim; I can’t take that step.” “Very well; then you can’t take any other steps in following Him till by faith you have found and trusted in Him, so receiving the Divine nature; with that alone you will be enabled to please and follow Him.”
The reproach of the cross is its implied accusation that we are sinners under condemnation, unable to extricate ourselves from our lost position, and our need to be converted, to be “born again.” In late years some earnest seekers for God have been attempting to eliminate the offence of the cross by omitting all reference to it and the Scriptural terms which describe our lost estate. It is to be “life-changing” to a standard of “absolute purity, absolute honesty,” etc., which are all impossible except upon an intelligent trust in a Sin-Bearer, so becoming “partakers of the Divine nature.” Moral reformation may come from our personal efforts, but moral regeneration only from trust in the Saviour.
The cross then is the test to which all must come. None can remain indifferent to it. All must be affected by it either in condemnation or salvation and glory. It remains most surely the only basis of our position “in the heavenlies.” For the present, we who form the Church are to be a spiritual body for the expression of the Saviour’s love and grace on earth. Some glad day the Church will be the spiritual Bride for the manifestation of His glory in Heaven. So may I ever “Survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died.”
“Peace be unto You” (John 20:19)
It is good often to “stir up” our minds by “way of remembrance” of some of the great underlying facts and blessings of our salvation, even though we “know them.” So let us roll back the centuries, and betake ourselves with the disciples to the “large upper room” (Luke 22:12). This was the “anogeon,” the private upper room where the family was born and lived, and where the doors could be “shut for fear of the Jews.”
How glad the disciples must have been that this had been granted for their use, as the result of the Master’s request, rather than the “kata-luma,” the lower public room, or “khan,” for which He had actually asked. What a night of turmoil and noise and flashing lights it must have been, out in the streets of old Jerusalem. For in addition to the crowds always in the capital at Passover time, there was added all the excitement over the arrest and crucifixion of the great Jewish Prophet from Nazareth. Who could tell when His followers might not be arrested to be dealt with? No wonder the doors were shut “for fear.”
Then there happened that gracious appearance to the assembled disciples which was to set the seal upon the fact of the resurrection, and bring gladness to them and to the whole world of believers afterwards. What words would He choose in which to announce His victory over sin and death and hell? What words would best dissipate their fears? Well, He chose the old Jewish salutation of “Shalom” (peace).
How and why had this become the national greeting of the Jew? Perhaps because the salutation we give to each other represents our uppermost desire for them. The practical Anglo-Saxon says: “How do you do?” because he is always doing things. The polite Frenchman with his care for deportment, greets, “How do you carry yourself?” The ancient Greek with his love for sunshine and gladness had as his greeting, “Rejoice!” But the Jew had been placed in the perilous little land of Palestine by the deliberate choice of God. His land had become the battleground between mighty Egypt in the South and successive empires in the North. So the greatest need for Palestine was for peace, and for the Jew it became the national greeting and desire each for the other.
But of course the Risen Saviour imported far more than that into His greeting that night. He gave no doubt the usual Jewish salutation, but it was no longer merely a kindly desire for them. It was now the announcement of a tremendous and accomplished fact. For through Him, God had just “made peace through the blood of His cross” (Col. 1:20). Now He was glad to be able to announce the fact in this appropriate salutation. As a proof of it “He showed unto them His hands and His side,” and a week later invited Thomas actually to thrust His hand into His side. Commenting on this symbolic action, an ancient writer has this to say: “Christ allowed only His wounds to be touched after His resurrection. Hereby we perceive that we can be united to Him only through His death.”
His greeting, then, was “Peace be to you!” How then had this peace been procured which was now being proclaimed? In the operations of God something had to antedate peace, and that was righteousness, for that must ever be God’s order. Indeed it is thus expressed in Romans 14:17, “The kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost,” for God had somehow to reinstate man in righteousness before He could proclaim to him His peace.
A sinner “minus his sins” is not a Christian. More than that is needed, for salvation which leads to God’s peace is more than subtraction. There must be a Divine addition, God adding to man His righteousness, putting it to man’s account as it were, for a Christian is not merely a pardoned criminal.
The law of the land may indeed pardon a criminal, in view of extenuating circumstances, and so not pass sentence upon him. But this does not in any way remove his guilt. Man’s law may indeed decide to overlook the guilt, but such a thing is impossible to a Holy God. It is morally essential that God should remove the guilt, and He arranged to do so by laying it upon His righteous Son, who bore it in our stead. So, in view of that vicarious sacrifice we sinners can be reinstated; not pardoned merely but justified, accounted just, with all the righteousness of Christ put to our account and credit. Then, God’s peace follows as a Divine sequel.
Now what actually happened at the “fall?” What did man lose that God was at such pains to restore him? We are told (Gen. 2:7): “God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul” (Heb., nephesh). This is reiterated in 1 Cor. 15:45: “The first man Adam became a living soul” (Gr., psuche). That soul represents the man’s central personality, his ego, in which is centred his will, the executive of the man. This soul was endowed by God with a body (Gr., soma), which makes him capable of world-consciousness; but God also gave the soul a spirit (Gr., pneuma), which made him capable of God-consciousness.
However we are told that now he is “dead in trespasses and sins,” dead that is, as regards his spirit nature (pneumaticos). For though that spirit still remains, it is now inoperative towards God, like a radio set which is out of action. The machinery is there, but it cannot function. God now states that all capacity to understand the things of the Spirit, which are “spiritually discerned,” has been lost, “neither can he know them” (1 Cor. 2:14). Man has thus become damaged in his spirit, so that it is no longer of use for its designed purpose of holding communion with God.
Man has therefore to fall back on his soul (psuche), and is now described as “natural” (psuchichos), and no longer spiritual (pneumaticos). He now depends on his soul for his highest achievements, for he cannot rise higher than its level. On the other hand, through his damaged spirit he can sink lower, through the continued operations of “the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” For that nature can still be influenced by Satan, who at the fall infected man with his own rebellion, and gained access to the human heart.
We all came into the world in the wake of a great disaster, sin; and God’s answer to this disaster is to make all those who will believe on His Son, and accept Him as their Substitute and Sin-Bearer, “partakers of the Divine nature.” It is with that new nature, which is wholly good, we are now again able to enjoy God-consciousness. Such a man is now able to receive and discern the things of the Spirit, so that it has been truly said, “A Christian on his knees can see further than a philosopher on tip-toes!”
The conclusion of the matter is that there were three separate factors in “the fall.” (1) Sin was committed—“Thou hast eaten” (Gen. 3:17). (2) Man was condemned by a righteous God— “Unto dust shalt thou return” (Gen. 3:19). (3) As a further result, separation from God was enforced—“So He drove out the man” (ver. 24). Yet such was God that no sooner had He enforced this inevitable separation and banishment, than He graciously began to make for man, a way back to God, providing the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament, and the Saviour in the New.
God’s salvation is so complete and suited to the need that Paul is able triumphantly to ask three unanswerable questions in Romans 8, God’s summary of salvation. Thus: (1) “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” (ver. 33) for there is now no guilt. (2) “Who is he that condemneth?” (ver. 34) for there is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. (3) “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” No one, for positionally we are now “in Christ,” members of His Body, with an indissoluble union. So as far as position goes there can be no separation, though many things may be allowed to separate us from the full enjoyment of that love.
Now this peace of God is to operate in all circumstances of life. The promise of Psalm 91 still applies in detail. In verse 13 we are told: “Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder…the dragon shalt thou trample underfoot.” The lion you hear coming with a roar, like many troubles in life whose coming we know beforehand. God says we shall tread upon them, and not be affrighted by them. The adder has bitten you before you know it; many troubles attack us unperceived. Yet we may triumph over them too. The dragon is the most fearsome of all! We do not know what it is! It is a creature of the imagination, and there are likewise very many imaginary troubles which often put God’s people to flight. Yet He promises to keep us from even the fear of them, and to maintain us “in quietness and confidence” all our days. Oh, these craven hearts of ours! How often we are like the man who said: “All my life I have been surrounded with many and grievous troubles, yet nearly all of them have never come near me!”
Thank God, through the acquired habit of faith in Christ, we may continually “be careful for nothing,” as in “everything” we make known our requests unto God, for “the peace of God shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” I once asked a large manufacturer of engines how it is that engine-bearings now last for so many thousands of miles, when only a few years ago they had to be continually adjusted for wear. ‘Well,” he said, “if any two metals are in rubbing contact, however hard and polished they are, there must be wear. But,” he said, “we have learned of late years how to continually maintain a thin film of oil between the two surfaces, so that they do not actually come into contact at all, and as long as that is so, there will be no wear!”
Just so, surrounded as we are by a world that is in opposition to God, we Christians shall be exposed to the wear and tear and difficulties of life, day by day. Yet there may be maintained between us and all these disturbing and wearing circumstances of life, the unbreakable calm of the peace of God, ministered by the Spirit. Just so long as that is so, we may be safeguarded from the fret and wear and worry of the world, and so “last out” and not “wear out.” “Now the Lord of Peace Himself give you peace, always, by all means!”
“The God of Peace”
Luke the Physician in the beautiful prologue to his Gospel records a gracious declaration of the Spirit. It is that Christ, “the Dayspring from on high, hath visited us…to guide our feet into the way of peace” (1:79). It was peace with God that primal man lost at the fall, for enmity as well as sin had entered his heart, and for these he was driven out of Eden. The whole after-revelation from God is mainly occupied with the making again of a “Way of Peace.” This was done by the One who so graphically declared: “I am the Way…no man cometh unto the Father but by Me.”
Years later as the result of the supreme sacrifice of the Son of God on Calvary, the writer to the Hebrews exhorts us to “draw near” again to God, by a “new and living way” (Chap. 11:20). Here he is inspired to use a special word only twice found in Scripture. For the word “new” in the text is a translation of the Greek word “prosphatos,” which literally means “newly-slain” (Young). Thus it is literally a “newly-slain and living way.”
We are therefore to infer, not that this is a way later than Moses’ Law, but that it is a newly-slain, and therefore a recently made way. In confirmation of this thought, John peering into Heaven (Rev. 5:6) for the Lion of the tribe of Judah, still sees “a Lamb as it had been slain” (sphatto). What a wonderful combination, “a newly-slain yet living way!”
“Newly-slain” brings to mind Luther’s delighted exclamation when first the truth of justification by faith was revealed to him. Ascending the Scala Sancta in Rome on his knees to acquire merit, this great truth suddenly burst upon him. Rising to his feet he cried delightedly, in his new-found peace and joy: “Why, Calvary seems as if it were only yesterday!” And that is a profound truth. As a historical event we human beings with our limitations of time and space, date Calvary 1900 years ago and place it upon the Green Hill. Yet as a moral event, it has no date! Actually Christ was slain in the mind and plan of God “before the foundation of the world.” Thus morally the event is as near to us as it was to the dying thief.
It is significant that one of the most illustrious titles bestowed upon the Saviour long before His birth was “Prince of Peace” Isa. 9:6). Well it became Him! Well it described His ministry towards man! Ere He died He had said: “Peace I give unto you.” Then as a crowning act God “made peace through the blood of His cross.”
Now it is a remarkable fact that no fewer than six of the Epistles close with a promise or prayer about the God or the Lord of Peace. Thus it seems as if peace well described God’s supremest achievement on man’s behalf, and these passages beautifully summarize that work.
Perhaps 2 Thess. 3:26 forms a simple summary of all the rest. “Now the Lord of Peace Himself give you peace always, by all means,” or, more literally, “in every way.” The reference here is not to how the peace was made but how it applies in daily life. There are four main ways in which a Christian may lose the enjoyment of this dearly-purchased peace, and God exhorts that all these should be guarded against.
(1) 1 Thess. 5:23 may well be considered first. “The very God of Peace sanctify you wholly.” Here we have to remember that the word translated “sanctify,” does not primarily mean “make you holy,” though the result is to be holiness. The root word “hagios,” 250 times translated “holy,” literally means “separated,” or set apart for a purpose, consecrated to that purpose. In itself the word does not imply any moral qualities, though it may lead to them. The women of pagan temples were “hagios,” set apart for their nefarious life!
This prayer therefore literally means “the God of Peace separate you wholly,” evidently from all within and around that defiles. This implies a moral separation from the “world” and its lusts, and a renunciation of all known sin. It involves a letting go of all known weights and doubtful things, that we may be “preserved blameless.” God promises to guide us in these matters. Someone was asked whether a certain doubtful thing would be harmful if not given up. The terse answer was: “No harm if you don’t want to win!” So if we are continually to go on pressing “toward the mark for the prize,” we shall have to allow God to sanctify us wholly, to separate us from all that grieves His Spirit.
(2) “The God of Peace shall bruise Satan under your feet” (Rom. 16:20). Surely it is deeply significant that in the closing verses of the Roman Epistle, God’s greatest treatise on human sin and its remedy, there should be this remarkable and only reference to the great author of sin, the enemy of souls. There has been much in the Epistle on human sinfulness and its penalty; of how it was borne by God’s Son; of the flesh and its perplexing problems; and of how the citadel of the human heart can be guarded by the Holy Spirit. But Satan, the great first cause of all this sin and sorrow, is never mentioned till these closing verses. Is it not because our main problem is the overcoming of the sin in our hearts, and not the overcoming of the enemy; for he has already been overcome by the only One capable of doing so, and we fight from the entrenched position of being “in Christ.” God will “bruise him;” we are only told to “resist” him. We shall be well able to “stand against him” if we put on all the defensive armor provided by God, so that “having done all” we shall stand. In this closing promise to “bruise Satan under” our feet, we surely have a reiteration of the prophecy uttered in Eden that the Seed of the woman (Christ) shall bruise his head. Here is a further reassurance that in spite of all they were suffering, the victorious outcome was sure, and that with them was the Lord their God to fight their battles.
(3) “Finally brethren…be perfect…be of one mind, and the God of love and peace shall be with you” (2 Cor. 13:11). Here the God of Peace is to give us peace with each other! After many other needed and practical exhortations to the Corinthians, here is one of the most needed and most practical. “Be perfect.” This is a translation of the most interesting verb, “katar-tizo,” eleven times used in the New Testament. Dr. Griffith Thomas says it is a surgical term, in a technical sense, which signifies the replacing of a joint after a disclocation. Of course it never means perfect in the sense of sinless, but means “put into adjustment.” Paul has had occasion to use it before in his first letter to the Corinthians (1:10), “That there be no divisions among you, but that ye be perfectly joined together” (katartizo). For how can the Body of Christ (of which all believers are members) function harmoniously and effectively, if we are only concerned to be adjusted to the Head, yet are content to be dislocated from each other? Truly all the members suffer! How can we expect the Holy Spirit to operate in power through us when often we are so dislocated and estranged from each other? Oh, the warriors of God who go limping when they should be leaping!
(4) Now we come to what is perhaps the most beautiful closing prayer of any Epistle, Hebrews 13:20: “Now the God of Peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect…to do His will.” Here “perfect” again represents the unusual verb “katartizo.” So the literal text is, “The God of Peace … adjust you thoroughly to do His will.” For here is the greatest and most continual and most important problem in the Christian life; how to maintain a habitual yieldedness to the will of God. For us, that will is expressed by God’s Holy Spirit who, if He is allowed, is well able to keep us from stumbling and sinning. Yet inevitably, if my will is consciously and continually dislocated from the known will of God, I can run no race and win no prize.
That was evidently the trouble with Jacob of old. All the time he was wrestling with God his will was opposed to the Heavenly Wrestler, and was out of joint with the will of God At length the time came when there was no option but for God to put Jacob’s thigh out of joint, which left him limping permanently for life. But it was well worth it at the price. It was a thousand times better to have a dislocated thigh, than a dislocated will. It always will be! Now, when God so dealt with him, it brought him to the end of himself, and in place of wrestling he began clinging with holy boldness: “I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me.” We shall never be out of the will of God, when we so cling and so claim. Alas, that often God having tried gentler measures to bring us to the end of our resources, that He may bless us, has to dislocate us physically or materially that we may become and remain adjusted (katartizo) to the will of God. Then walking in the Spirit we need not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.
Here then in these closing verses of the Epistles which cluster around the God of Peace we have the four main secrets of a happy Christian life, a life of peace and power and fruitfulness. (1) The world kept at a safe distance by an insulated life; (2) the evil one “bruised” under our feet and unable to affright us; (3) a continual adjustment to our fellow-believers; and (4) a continual adjustment and yielding to the will of God. How then are these happy results to be brought about? By our own efforts? No. “The God of Peace … make you perfect to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight.” Be very sure He will do the “working” if only we will go on doing the “allowing.” For God does not compel us to yield, though He does constrain us to do so. It is noticeable that the New Testament verb is not “paragello,” command (about seven times in the Epistles), but “parakaleo,” entreat or beseech, one hundred times in the New Testament. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present (yield) your bodies, a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God!”
“In His hand” (Joshua 5:13)
How revealing is the hand! How it reflects the life! For what is habitually in a man’s hand largely represents his life and thoughts and activities. The hand reveals the heart!
Thus when God met Moses in the desert, His question: “What is that in thine hand?” was not for God’s information, it was rather for Moses’ illumination. God could see what was in His servant’s hand. He rather wanted Moses to realize what was in his heart, and what actually constituted his life. There might have been a monarch’s sceptre in that hand, but “by faith Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.” But now, long years after, all that was in the man’s hand was his shepherd’s rod, or staff (the same word), with which he had led “the flock to the… desert.” It was as if God said to him: “What is now in your life, you who were brought up in a palace, you who once had visions of delivering My people? Why are you merely occupied with ‘those few sheep in the wilderness?’” Later, through grace, that shepherd’s staff was to become “the rod of God,” and Moses was to change his occupation from guiding a flock of sheep to guiding a nation for God. The change of what was in his hand was to become symbolic of the change in his heart and life.
And hands in the New Testament are just as illuminating. Let us betake ourselves to Galilee, in “the days of His flesh,” and climb the winding street in Nazareth. Let us turn in at the carpenter’s shop, and question the owner: “Joseph, what is that in thine hand?” It would have been a plane or hammer, for he was a worker in wood. How little Joseph realized there was growing up in his workshop One who would later take His turn as “the carpenter” of Nazareth, but who was destined later to become the Great Carpenter of Souls. He like Moses would change His occupation and turn from the tools of trade to the souls of men.
Let us now climb out of Nazareth, and descend to the Lake of Galilee, hung like a great big blue raindrop in that thirsty land. Passing through Bethsaida we might have come upon two toilers by the Lake. Let us stop and question them: “Peter and John, what is that in your hands?” They would have said, “A net, for we be fishers.” That net represented their lives, the toil that filled their thoughts. Later, they too were to change their livelihood, and become “fishers of men” and learn to deal in eternal values.
Let us now turn up from the Lake into Capernaum, and passing through “the receipt of custom” ask one sitting there: “Matthew, what is that in thine hand?” He would have answered: “Gold is in my hand, I am the tax-gatherer.” But he, too, was destined to be called by the Saviour, and thenceforth to change his occupation. He was to learn a new scale of values and learn to lay up “gold tried in the fire” that he too might become rich throughout all eternity.
Then we must take ship across the blue Aegean, land at Corinth, and climb up to the generous home of one Gaius the “host of the whole Church.” There about A. D. 58 we might have found seated in his guest-chamber one Saul of Tarsus, now the great “apostle to the Gentiles.” Let us question him: “Paul, what is that in thine hand?” He might well have answered, “‘The pen of a ready writer,’ with which I have just written to Galatia, and am now writing for God to Rome.” How changed the occupation of the hand that now held the pen and continually enriched the world. Once it had held “letters” from the High Priest, to bind “any of this way.” But under the blessed compulsion of the Son of God, the persecutor had changed his occupation and become the preacher, by lip and pen.
In the adjoining guest-room I think we should find Paul’s travelling companion, Luke the Physician. “What is that in thine hand?” let us ask him. Once it had held the surgeon’s knife, but he too has turned from bodies to souls. At times he, too, handles the pen for God, to the world’s permanent enrichment, but mainly he is busy over the surgery of souls; blessed calling, blessed preoccupation!
One last visit, this time to a woman at Joppa by the sea. Let us see what is her business. “What is that in thine hand, Dorcas?” “Why, my needle. Once it was used for self, now it ministers to the saints, and satisfies my heart and their needs. I sew for the Saviour.” So hands show hearts.
Now let us turn to the Saviour Himself, and ask Him reverently: “Lord, what is that in Thine hand?” For that mighty hand has held many things, and performs many ministries committed unto Him by the Father; like everything else about Him, the answers will be both important and illuminating to us.
(1) First, “In the hand of the Lord there is a cup… He poureth out of the same… the dregs…the wicked…shall drink” (Ps. 75:8). Essentially the hand of a Holy God must hold a cup of judgment for sin, for “He is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity.” That dread cup is filled from “the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of God.” Some dread day He will hand that cup to the wicked, and not one such shall escape that draught of death when in the course of the ages Christ becomes “the Judge of all the earth.”
(2) Had that been the only cup held by His hand, these words had never been written, nor read by believers. But, thank God, we can read further in Matthew 26:39 of another cup He held and drank in dread Gethsemane, the cup of anguish to Himself. For in the plan of God and of salvation: “They gave Me gall to drink” (Ps. 69:21). Thank God,
“That bitter cup, Love drank it up,
Now there’s but peace for me.”
(3) But the cup He drank that dark night involved far more of physical suffering for Him. We can realize how much more by the question in Zechariah 13:6: “One shall say unto Him, What are these wounds in Thy hands?” Then He shall answer, “These with which I was wounded in the house of My friends.” Many moving things could be said of that strange reception by His own nation, when in place of giving Him a crown they nailed Him to a cross. Men crowned Him with thorns to express their hatred. God at the same time “crowned Him with glory and honor,” to express His approbation and love.
(4) As a result we can confidently turn to Ps. 116:13, and receive from that pierced hand that which He tenders to all who will believe on Him and “take the cup of salvation.” What a happy description of God’s remedy for sin! “A cup of salvation,” that cheers and rejoices and sustains. No wonder we can “call upon the name of the Lord” in joy and thanksgiving.
(5) Here then is Divine and perfect provision for our needs, yet in a world of violence and sin, we need also protection, and such is indicated in Joshua 5:13 where Joshua beheld “a man with his sword drawn in his hand.” For the loving Saviour of the “gracious words” of the Gospels, is also the warrior Lord. The Son of God goes forth to war! That sword is described as “drawn,” and it will never be sheathed “till all the ransomed saints of God are saved to sin no more.” It ever protects His own, and pursues the wicked.
(6) But privileges carry responsibilities, and we turn further to Amos 7:7 and find still another “ministry” of that mighty hand. God specially calls attention to it with a question to Amos: “What seest thou?” “And the Lord stood with a plumbline in His hand.” Now a plumb-line is needed to make evident the crookedness of a wall, and we shall ever need God’s sure plumbline, the Word of God, in daily operation in our lives to discover our shortcomings and failings that God may amend them. Daily may we use it!
(7) The consummation of it all comes surely in 1 Cor. 11:25: “This cup of the New Testament in My blood.” Here as the result of these many and various operations of God’s hand, fellowship and intimacy are re-established between God and man. Because of His cup of woe, there is ever for us a cup of consolation and communion. On our part may there ever be a growing appreciation of its obligation and privilege!
(8) Now let us turn the searchlight of the Word on ourselves. “What is there in my hand?” 1 John 1:1 beautifully describes the first need of our hands and hearts. Here the aged John speaks of “handling the Word of Life.” The verb used here is an interesting one. It is rendered “feel after” in Acts 17:27. That is ever the first stage of finding a Saviour; a feeling after Him in the dark. But light soon breaks on the seeking soul, and there follows a very real and tangible experience of Him, of knowing Him. As the Saviour invited in Luke 24:29: “Handle Me (same word), and see that it is I.” Again the hand is the route to the heart. So His mighty hand holds me eternally, as in John 10:28, while my feeble hand of faith handles Him in daily experience, as in 1 John 1:1.
(9) But shall such hands be idle? Never, in the will of God! In 1 Tim. 2:8 one of the most difficult and neglected yet precious of ministries is stressed for the believer: “I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands.” “Again “uplifted hands” are surely tokens of praying hearts. Is this a real and regular ministry in your life? Have you the great privilege of such “holy hands?” Have you a heart ever hungry for others that must find relief in prayer for them? “Lord, teach us to pray!”
(10) But Luke 9:62 also stresses the constant and universal obligation upon every believer: “No man, having put his hand to the plough.” The inference is that every believer, every true disciple must handle the plough of labor for God, some plough, some labor. Some service is called for from all. There is some definite and regular contribution each must make to the kingdom of God and the Body of Christ. Have you yet found your appointed ministry? Are you making “full proof” of it? Yet how many hands one notices, that “hang down.” They have long since abandoned the plough, the service of God. Oh, the loss, the sorrow to man, to God!
There are many indeed who have come to the condition of the man in Luke 6:6. What was his malady? It was a chronic one. He had a withered hand. How descriptive! A palsy had taken him, slow, unperceived in its onset, yet fatal in its consequences. He was now “not able.” It was his right hand too. The best of his talents were now useless, the best of his possibilities were now impossible. There are many withered right hands of believers today. They have life, but not strength, or skill for service.
What is the remedy for such a withered hand? Is there still a remedy? Is it not too long-lasting, too late? Well there is still the Saviour available, “able to save to the uttermost.” There was one impotent man thirty-eight years in this sad condition, yet that proved no difficulty to the same Great Physician. Thirty-eight years or thirty-eight minutes must be all the same to Him. Do we really think we are beyond His skill?
Mark now the Great Physician’s treatment of this withered hand. Back of that withered hand was a withered will, an unwilling heart. In any case the procedure is highly significant. The Saviour addresses Himself to the hardest part of the miracle first. He addresses the man’s will, in the first command: “Stand forth in the midst.” To do that no change in the hand was needed, only a change in the man’s will. Yet many today facing just such a dread disease, and in like sad condition are really “unwilling to be well.” “Wilt thou be made whole?” was the Saviour’s strange question to the other cripple (John 5:6). It hardly seemed to need an answer. Yet it is precisely the same problem today with many of His own. Many do not want to be well, they might have to work then! They are like professional cripples.
Now we need to be careful here. When it is a question of healing of the body, it may, or may not, be the will of God. Some of His very choicest saints have been called to go through life in frail bodies. He can heal, but is it the will of God? But when it comes to spiritual maladies, it is always the will of God we should be well and strong. There is no need for delicate members of the Body of Christ. It is never His will that “sin should have dominion over us,” or that we should be impotent spiritually.
Happily, this man was different to so many professional cripples. He was willing for the Lord to operate on him, so “he stood forth in the midst.” Then came what to us seems so difficult, the healing of the hand. Was it difficult to God? Well, evidently not, for the second command came without a pause: “Stretch forth thy hand.” And as the cripple wonderingly, tremblingly, seeks to obey, strength is given in answer to faith (as it ever is), and the hand comes forth whole as the other. That, I believe, is ever the Divine sequence —first, a willing mind, then a glorious deliverance. Still as of old “the power of the Lord is present to heal” (Luke 5:17). Oh, believe it!
Return to God
“Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11). Here is a plain expression of God’s purpose towards us in creation. Yet how soon human sin destroyed any pleasure God might find in man. There could be only one result: “So He drove out the man” (Gen. 3:24). This was the outward visible consequence of sin and its resulting estrangement from God. Yet no sooner had God enforced this separation and exile from Himself than all His redemptive energies were directed to one aim, to restore man to communion to Himself, to reinstate him in His favor, and to draw him back into His heart and life.
John the Apostle, inspired historian and expositor of the love of God, reveals in his Gospel a beautiful and progressive restoration of this privilege and communion with God, culminating in the sacred intimacies of the upper room. Thus he begins with:
(1) Christ as light in darkness (John 1:9), lighting “every man that cometh into the world.” For light is the first essential in a world of gloom. In our first glimpse (Gen. 1:2) of the world we live in, we are significantly told “darkness was upon the face of the deep,” darkness that was physical. And spiritual darkness descended upon the race when man was blinded by sin. So John tells us thirty times of the “Light that lighteth every man.”
(2) Christ who is our life.” Then in John 3:3 he describes how at the new birth, life from above may be imparted to the “dead.” How important is this revelation to us who were dead in “trespasses and sins.” This is not merely an improvement or quickening of the human life we received from our parents. The “Gift of God which is eternal life” is indeed a different quality of life altogether; it is life from another world, by which for the first time we are made “partakers of the Divine nature,” and become for ever “children of God.”
(3) “Living water.” But to sustain this new life, adequate provision is made by God. Water is needed continually, so in John 4:14 Christ promises His own perennial supplies of “living water… springing up into Everlasting Life.” Are our souls parched and dry? Or are we drinking deep and often of this life-giving stream? We shall ever need to.
(4) “Bread from Heaven.” Then in John 6:51 we have the needed complement of water, when our Saviour proclaims: “I am the living bread which came down from Heaven… He that cometh to Me shall never hunger.” Yet He advocates a continual hunger and thirst after righteousness! For He has contracted ever to satisfy it! Light, life, water and bread, all are present and general necessities of life, all are freely provided by God.
(5) But guidance is needed for God’s children in an alien world. So in John 10:3, 4 we are told of the Good Shepherd and His care and guidance of the so-foolish sheep. This is no impersonal provision, such as light or water or bread. We come now to an essentially personal relationship with a living, loving Shepherd. It betokens a restored intimacy and contact with the very Son of God. “Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah!”
(6) Then in John 12:32 this growing nearness is further emphasized and expressed by the Saviour’s words and intention: “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me,” and this, not through a shining example but by a sacrificial death. He is indeed God’s divine magnet to draw to Himself all those who by virtue of the new nature can now respond to His attraction. And He is ever drawing, drawing, drawing His people to Himself. Yet how feebly we sometimes sing, “Draw me nearer!”
(7) At last we come to the upper room, and there the Lover of our souls opens His arms to enclose us in a long embrace. Matthew, Mark, and Luke give us but fifty verses between them on the doings in the upper room. Thank God, John, years afterwards, is allowed of God to draw aside the curtain and usher us into the intimacies and privileges of that sacred place. He fills five whole chapters with loving details, which enrich the soul and reveal the Son of God. And among the many other sayings of the Saviour, John records a magic formula of our Lord seven times repeated, which ushers us into the very Holiest, the Heart of God. It is found in the simple words: “I… ye also.” In its use it embraces all that is needful in the believer’s life, in its sequence it leads him up to Heaven and Home.
(1) Let us begin with life. “Because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:19). This is no mere bestowal of independent life. A human parent is able to impart life to his child, which is then independent of the parent. It is far otherwise with the believer. For him, eternal union has been re-established, and actually now “Christ is our life” (Col. 3:4). If a large nerve of the human body is cut, part of the body is severed from the brain, no impulses can now reach it. But join the two ends of the nerve together, and in a wonderful way the central nervous system sends out an extension of itself down each of the many minute fibrils of the nerve, each reaching its appointed place, so that without any resulting confusion, union and life are re-established. At the fall sin severed the human members from the Head, but by virtue of the Divine surgery of the Cross, the members have been again brought into living union with the Head; so that, though invisible, there is now an extension of the very life of Christ into the heart of every believer. Thus Christ could declare: “Because I live, ye shall live also.”
(2) “I…ye also,” of love. “God is love,” and God’s new life in us must express itself in love, not only to Him but to one another. So He commanded (John 13:34): “As I have loved you, ye also love one another.” Here is a Divine standard set up for our love, “As I … Ye also.” For we are to love one another, not with our own poor puny human love but with the love of God “which is shed abroad in our hearts.” Now He knew full well that many of His children would differ largely from each other in their interpretation of some Scriptures. Yet if they are fellow-children of God they must still love one another, and such love cannot really be in exercise without opportunities of contact and fellowship. “Little children love one another,” urges John.
(3) “I … ye also,” of humility. “If I then your Lord and Master have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14). Only as we really love and know one another, and seek each other’s good and well-being, can we be kept unselfish and humble. For “love seeketh not her own…is not puffed up.” Now, sad to say, a “strife among them…which…should be greatest,” had intruded itself even into the upper room and the Saviour’s farewell discourses. Yet how often such a strife has intruded into our holy things, how often jealousy and self-seeking have marred our “remembrance” of the Lord! God help us to really esteem others better than ourselves.
(4) “I…ye also,” of unity. In John 17:21 the Saviour is praying to His Father about the disciples, so the pronouns are changed, but the blessed formula is the same, the embrace is as close: “As…Father…I (am) in Thee, they also may be one in Us.” What a desire for us! Here again our Saviour surely foreknew the future and the hearts of His own. Was this to be a vain and impossible ideal? Was this prayer to be unanswered and unanswerable for true believers who “meet” differently, yet belong to the same Lord? Surely not? What rich blessing comes when we meet simply “all one in Christ Jesus!”
(5) “I… ye also” of sanctification. “I sanctify Myself that they also might be sanctified” (John 17:19). Here again our Great Exemplar “goeth before.” He, the Sinless Son, was separated from all evil, and He wants us also to be separated from all known evil, with a “conscience void of offence.”
(6) “I…ye also,” of service. John 14:12 is a wondrous statement: “The works that I do shall He do also, and greater works.” And the reason: “Because I go to My Father.” They were to exchange His presence for His omnipresence. They had walked with the Son; soon He was to dwell and walk in them through the Spirit, and become the motive force of their lives.
(7) “I … ye also,” of Home! “I will come again … that where I am ye may be also” (John 14:2). Here is the supreme fulfilment of the plans of God. Here we are come to “journey’s end.”
“The wanderer no more will roam,
The lost one to the fold has come,
The prodigal is welcomed home,
O Lamb of God, to Thee!”
So the Apostle John has traced the pilgrim’s progress of increasing nearness to God till at last he lands in the Celestial City.
How well Bunyan’s pilgrim expresses it: “I see myself now at the end of my journey; my toilsome days are ended. I am now going to see the Head that once was crowned with thorns. I have loved to hear my Lord spoken of, and where I have seen the print of His foot on earth, there have I coveted to tread also.” So after he had said: “Take me, for I come to Thee,” “he ceased to be seen of them… So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.” God grant us each such a steady growth in grace and nearness, that we may have a like “abundant entry into glory:”
2 Dr. L. S. Chafer.